The Importance of Truth in Business

I posted this article almost 5 years ago and I’ve decided that it’s time to update it based on my more recent experiences.

Let me first start by saying that what I wrote 5 years ago, still stands true today.  When it comes to management and leadership, there is one attribute that is almost always forgotten: Truth.  People don’t understand or realize the value and importance of Truth. Let me tell you why it’s crucial to each and every organization.

What is Truth

So what do I mean by this thing I call ‘Truth’.  Dictionary.com has numerous definitions but my favourite has to be:

Truth: honesty; integrity; truthfulness.

Of course we all know what we mean by the truth, or by honesty.  But in what context do I refer to it?  Let’s examine a couple.

Truth to Yourself

The most important person that you need to be truthful to is yourself.  This is true for all aspects of your life, but let’s focus on the business aspects for now.  You need to be able to be truthful to yourself about your own capabilities and limitations.

You need to be honest with yourself  to allow yourself to know where to draw the line, when to get help and when not to overstep your own boundaries.  Without being honest to yourself, you could get yourself in trouble by assuming that you can handle all situations.  Another, and a possibly more important, reason is to ensure you continue to develop by focusing on the areas that need development.  Those can only be identified if you’re honest with yourself.

Ultimately, you need to be truthful to yourself in all your decisions and actions.  This is extremely important as it defines the way you conduct business.  It is the foundation of ethical business practices.  You have to fully believe in all of your decisions and actions.  There is a great paper written by William K. Clifford in 1877 titled “The Ethics of Belief” that you should read if you’re interested in some aspects of being truthful to one’s self.

If more business leaders where more truthful with themselves, maybe we’d have less Enron-like situations on our hands.

Truth to Your Co-workers

One of the biggest factor of a successful team is trust.  Regretfully, trust cannot be bought or rented and must be earned.  The only way to achieve it and maintain it is through truth and honesty.

This truth is essential in all business relationships. Whether it’s a boss-employee relationship, a team member relationship or an executive-staff relationship.  Without truth, there is no honesty, which means no trust resulting in bad teamwork and “bad blood” in the team.  Without this truth, honesty and trust, people cannot work together in ‘good faith’.

So what happens when a team doesn’t work in ‘good faith’ with one another?  Well here are some obvious symptoms:

  • Finger Pointing
  • Lack of decision making (I have an article on this coming soon)
  • CYA (Cover Your A**, for those who don’t know the acronym)

There are many more symptoms, but the ultimate outcome is a culture of blame and finger pointing that results in reduced productivity, and usually high turnover rate.  At the end of the day, a paycheque is not the only thing that keeps people working at an organization.  If they are good at what they do, someone else with a better culture will pay them to do it elsewhere.

Secrecy is a lack of Truth

When discussing Truth, it’s important to also discuss secrecy. Many corporations or C-level executives sometimes try to control information with the excuse of protection of non-public information which could result in insider trading.  But in many scenarios, that is just an excuse.

Silence and secrecy can be a form of lying.  Habitual corporate secrecy, especially the kind that is done without reason, can kill trust in an organization.  It’s very important for corporations to share as much information as possible to foster that trust.  It’s a tricky line to traverse for senior management, which is why they typically don’t bother with it resulting in unnecessary secrecy. But this is an important subject to properly address.  No one ever said that the executive ranks were easy!

How do you foster Truth?

Well that is the million dollar question, isn’t it?  How do you foster ‘Truth’?  Well it’s easy I guess, just hire truthful people!  If only that were true.

The truth of the matter is that most people usually start by being truthful in an organization.  It’s your organization’s response to the truth that results in it being stifled.  If you don’t know what I mean, then ask yourself the following question keeping your organization in mind:

  • If someone says they are missing a deadline at work, how is it perceived?
    • Is it looked at as a failure?
    • Is it questioned and discussed?
    • Is it learned from?
    • Is it accepted as a result of professional decision making?
  • How is risk identification viewed?  Are teams willing to raise and share risks with executives?
    • Are risks considered bad?
    • Are the people identifying risks considered nay-sayers or road blocks?
    • Do you find yourself hiding risks to avoid difficult conversations?
  • Do people invoke a senior person’s name to get work done?
    • Is it because that is the only way to get work pushed through?
    • Is it used as a mechanism to force work to be done?
  • How are work estimations viewed?
    • Do the consumers of the estimations always question them?
    • Do the providers of the estimations always hesitate to provide them?
    • When estimates are not deemed accurate, is that considered a failure or an indicator of poor performance?

You see, how your organization responds to these and other similar situations determines how truthful the people involved will be the next around.  What is more interesting is that your organization’s response is mostly dictated by your organization’s culture.  A culture of distrust, unprofessionalism and CYA will result in lack of honestly, which will breed more distrust, unprofessionalism and CYA.  It’s a self-feeding vicious cycle!

You must break the cycle!  How, you ask?  Here are some ideas:

  • Start by hiring excellent people with high moral and ethical standards.  This is difficult to achieve via the traditional interview-based hiring process.  You need to lean  a lot more on networking and personal references.  These people will be your new base of trust.
  • Trust all your people.  The new and the existing ones.  You can’t pick and choose who you trust.  If you really can’t trust someone, then replace them.  Consider lack of trust and honesty a skill deficiency.  Get someone else that is new that you can trust.
  • If you find yourself continuing to distrust people including the new ones, then you must consider that you may be the problem yourself.  Try to get some coaching on how to be more self-aware and work hard on trying to be ‘truthful with yourself’ as I mentioned earlier.
  • Foster a culture of trust!  Don’t question people’s motives.  Remove all policies and procedures that exist mostly due to a lack of trust.  Examples include ‘lack of flexibility in the workplace’, ‘approvals for all aspects of work’, and ‘signatures for use of company supplies’.
  • Insist that all your staff, not just your managers and leaders, but all your staff, fosters a culture of honesty and that lack honesty and transparency is not acceptable.  Weave it into your corporate values.  If you don’t have corporate values, create them and put ‘Truth’ and ‘Honesty’ near the top.

There are many more ideas that will be specific to your organization, so seek professional help if you need to.  But once you do, just sit back and watch the process of truth, honestly and trust overcome your organization weeding out, by itself, anyone who cannot be truthful and who can’t be trusted to do the right thing.  This is what is referred to as a performant culture and will result in an order of magnitude increase in productivity.

So next time you’re trying to find a way to improve your company or business, take a look at what can be done to foster truthfulness and honesty.  I guarantee you that it will improve things significantly.

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